Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Fictional Holidays: Square Day's Eve

Happy Square Day's Eve, Readers!  Do you celebrate this (or other) fictional holidays with your class?  At my school, along with Math in Focus, we use Every Day Counts (or "Calendar Math," as we commonly refer to it).  The beauty of this system is its daily repetition.  But I like to make it fun with fictional holidays.  Kids, like all people, learn things better if they are emotionally involved.  So in looking over the math Common Core frameworks for fourth grade, I started thinking about where I could fit in square numbers.


I always feel like square numbers is one of those things that is easy to forget.  And what a waste that they get it wrong on their End of the Year tests or MCAS test, because it's not actually that difficult!  They just need a quick reminder every so often, and they'd all be capable of getting it right.

Fictional Holidays Make Calendar Time Way More Fun



This year I realized how easily square numbers could fit into the Every Day Counts portion of our day.  It would work especially well during a month when we work on area and perimeter every day.  So one day, after we looked at our improper fraction with a numerator of 9, the perimeter of a random figure we had drawn with 9 square centimeters, the geometric figures in our pattern, and the next entry in our running cash total, I got the idea of fictional holidays and wished my fourth graders a "Happy Square Day." 


"What's Square Day?"  They asked.


"What's Square Day?  It's the happiest day of the month!  You don't get brightly wrapped square presents, or eat square shaped cake or sing, Happy Square Day to You, but it's still the BEST holiday."


"Why?"  They asked excitedly.


"Because it happens FIVE times every month!"

(...)

Hey, some of them saw the humor.  The ones that didn't, well, their curiosity about this fictional holiday stayed piqued as I started to demonstrate how to create square numbers with one, then two, then three, and finally 4 small squares, the latter which formed a larger square.  "We had a Square Day on the 4th.  It's a 2 by 2 square."  I continued around the first square with 5, then 6, 7, 8 and finally nine small squares that formed a square.  "And today is also Square Day!  3 long by 3 wide is 9.  A perfect square."


"So it's basically a doubles fact" my smart little former third graders extrapolated.


"You do use the number twice, so it's like a special sort of doubles fact.  But here's why we call it a SQUARE number.  You CAN'T turn 5 blocks into a square.  You CAN'T turn 10 boxes into a square.  But you can with 9, and you can with 16, and you can with other Square Numbers, nice and even and neat.  That's why I love Square Day!  Definitely my favorite of the fictional holidays.


After giving them time to draw their own squares with a partner, I challenged them; "So when is the next "Square Day's Eve this month?"
 

Let the Kids Show YOU when these Fictional Holidays Fall



Instead of drawing the squares on an anchor chart, I drew it on the white board so I could erase one square from each corner.



"When is the day after Square Day, also known as 'Extra Boxing Day' in England?"  (The fictional holidays, not actual Boxing Day).  We added a box to each corner.


Once we explored squares (as well as what it looks like right before and right after a perfect square is drawn) I challenged them to redraw their previous figures for the month.  I asked them to create figures that were as compact as they could.  That is, I wanted figures that are as close to squares as possible.  Although sometimes it's great to draw creative, zany shapes to find the perimeter, interesting patterns emerge when the figures are more compact.  The kids love it when it's their turn in our Calendar Rotation to color in the boxes.  Coloring at their desk is a fun break from sitting with the whole group while we complete the rest of the routine.


As a result, the kids started to see patterns in their work.  They were noticing that the figure that is one off from a perfect square has the SAME perimeter as a square!  "It's like that one square is just inside out; it goes in at the corner instead of out to fill the corner."  They also noticed that the perimeter never went down as we progressed.  Previously there was no rhyme or reason to how area and perimeter were connected, because many kids were drawing skinny rectangles instead of allowing for irregular figures in between squares.  Now they actually had some data to analyze and draw conclusions from.


And so, in my class we celebrate these fictional holidays, Square Days, and they know that on the day before each Square Day their weirdo teacher is going to be giddy with anticipation. 
 

Do you use fictional holidays in Calendar Math?




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Friday, August 10, 2018

How I Run Literacy Centers with Journeys


A while back I wrote about how I set up my Literacy Centers.  My school has been using Journeys for a few years now, and I'm more familiar with common core this year than I was at the beginning of last year, so I felt ready to really delve in.  You can see how I set up my literacy center rotation topics and schedule here.

Literacy Centers OrganizationOrganizing Upper Elementary Literacy Centers

 
Today I thought I'd share how I organize my materials.  Let's face it; the best instructional activities will not engage students if the organization behind them doesn't work!  And if it's too complicated for us to manage, we're not going to want to use it either.  There was some trial and error when it came to different locations in the room and moving desks, which the kids HATED.  Who knew how nervous they would get about other people sitting at their desk!  

Literacy Center Materials


So I scrapped that first idea and instead created a file folder system.  It worked for my math games, so I shouldn't be surprised that it turned out to be the best solution for my literacy activities.  They know where to access the folders, how to distribute materials, and they can stay at their own desk.  There is only one activity in the course of the week that requires a single group to move to a separate spot in the room, and fortunately I have the space to accommodate that.
 
I keep the bin with 3 file folders right in the middle of my leveled readers.  My literacy centers rotations are right above this set of bins as well, so everything is within reach.  Other than "read with the teacher," each of the other stations has its own file folder of activities.

Literacy Centers: Topics

Inside each file folder I can "preload" the activities for the week.  The Mentor Sentences page has 3 different activities in one, so it keeps them occupied in the "Editing" station for 3 days, and I load the spelling in on the final day.  The Vocabulary pages look different enough from one day to the next, so the kids don't mix up which one to do first, second and so on.  I clip the "not yet" pages to the folder as a gentle reminder, and their current pages are loose in the folder for them to take.  And finally, the Independent Reading Response folder has 3 separate envelopes.  These are clearly labeled for each Close Read slip they need to do, in order.  The kids know they need to tape the first into their notebook and complete it before they take the second.  This is the most time consuming center, so often they come back to it when they finish a different literacy center early. 
Considering that this is my first year running literacy centers since moving to fourth grade (and since Common Core began) I think they are going pretty well!  I plan to offer my Close Reads in my TPT store this summer, so if you are thinking about trying stations next year, stay tuned!

[Edit:  I've started to post my Mentor Sentences products in my TPT store.  There are a few freebies in the section I've linked to if you want to give them a try!]

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Make Educational Videos for Elementary Students



Have you tried Educreations yet?  If you want to make or show educational videos for elementary students, look it up!
At the beginning of last year I started a classroom blog that was tailored more to my fourth graders than to their parents.  I posted photos of anchor charts as well as educational online games to keep them coming back to it on a weekly basis.  Then, later in the year, when the PTO bought all the teachers at my school iPads, I was determined to put mine to good use.  I wanted an app that was going to enhance my instruction in a new way, and that's when I found Educreations. 

Make Educational Videos for Elementary Students
 

Educreations is like recording yourself teaching a whole class lesson on a white board, except your audience won't see you.  They'll hear your voice and see what you draw.  You can also embed pictures into your presentation, and on the iPad you can add text (typed) instead of writing words. 
It takes a little bit of practice to find the possibilities and limitations to the program.  For example, I love that it lets me pause my recording so I can collect my thoughts after each slide.  However I don't love that if I make a mistake in the recording I can't go back and redo it!  There have been a few updates to Educreations, such as the addition of an eraser tool (because users begged for it) and you can now use Educreations on your computer as well!  I love a product that is regularly updated based on user feedback.  It's rare when a product is FREE.  That's right, it's a free app to help you make educational videos for elementary students.  
So how has this changed my teaching?  Well, although I'm not sure my district would approve of going the flipped classroom route (hard to do when not every child has internet access at home) it really has helped my kids learn some tricky, multistep processes in the following ways:
 
  1. Kids love anything novel.  Sitting in front of the computer (no, I don't have a projector either) for 4 minutes to watch a video is more interesting than the other 179 math lessons at the rug listening to me.  Suddenly no one needs to go get a drink of water!
  2. If a child needs reteaching, all they need to do is go back over to the computer with a small group of students and rewatch it.  Obviously I am available to answer questions, however sometimes, as one boy told me this week, "I just want to watch it a bunch of times until it REALLY sinks in!"
  3. Two words:  Sub Plans!
  4. Two words:  Homework help.
  5. If a student is absent of course they can watch it at home and learn without spreading their germs around!
 
If you're not sure you're up to creating videos, keep the following in mind:
 
  1. Don't feel you have to make a video on EVERYTHING.  I started out with the idea of 2 math procedures that I really wanted kids to see in action because historically their written notes just weren't enough.  This year I added another video for a third concept.
  2. You don't have to make videos for your class to benefit from Educreations.  The site is searchable, which means there are TONS of free educational videos for elementary students available.  You can show them in class or link up on your classroom website.  Once you start finding great videos you'll get a good sense of what you really want in a video, and then you can rethink the idea of creating your own.

Find Educational Videos for Elementary Students

To get you started, here is a video I created to help my fourth graders multiply 2 digit numbers by 2 digit numbers.   
It's a nice lead in to some hands on practice in class (this is a paid for product).  By keeping the direct instruction short, sweet, and engaging, we can get into the practicing quicker, which I love.  The work you put in creating or researching videos will make your job during class time much easier; you can focus more on the kids' learning than the subject matter itself.





 


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Monday, July 30, 2018

Practice Basic Internet Safety in Context with Edmodo

Do children and social media mix?  I wanted to teach my students basic internet safety in a real context.  I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Edmodo.  Whenever I heard about teachers talking about creating a class page with their students, Edmodo always came up.  And I'm interested in using technology more with my students;  I already had a classroom blog which I talked about in this post.  I just didn't know how Edmodo was different.

 

Practice Basic Internet Safety in Context with Edmodo

The instructors likened Edmodo to Facebook.  While I wouldn't "sell" it to parents in that way, the kids did see the connection right away and were excited about all the features:
Basic Internet Safety with Student Comments and Posts
  1. Kids can personalize their account complete with avatar, learning style, career goal, and inspirational quote (they can even search by famous person within the system).
  2. Kids can reply to posts.
  3. Kids can write their own posts for others to reply to.
  4. Kids can upload photos, links, and documents.
  5. Teachers can post all of the above as well as polls and quizzes (very similar to using Google forms, but integrated onto Edmodo itself).
  6. Teachers can enter dates and assignments into an integrated calendar.
  7. There's an app for that (Apple and Android).
However, Edmodo is designed for children and therefore has safeguards against predators as well as cyber bullying. 

Practice Basic Internet Safety with a Classroom Code


First, when you sign up for Edmodo as a teacher, you are given a "classroom code."  You will give that code to your students when you sign them up, and no one else can see the page unless they register with that code.  It's not the same as a password, in that the children will sign in with a username and password each time they log in, but the code is only used by them once when the register.  Once your whole class registers, you can "lock" the group.  If you get a new student later in the year you can reset the code to register that student (students who registered already don't need to re-register with the new code).  So the bottom line is, to facilitate basic internet safety, no one is getting on now or later without your help.
Second, unlike Facebook and other social media sites, to promote basic internet safety, there is no private messaging between students.  Anything a child writes will be seen by you and every other child in the class, and it will be logged under their real first name.  If a child was going to say something inappropriate, it would be as if they stood up in the middle of class to say it; it's all out in the open.  Cyber-bullying is often perpetuated by individuals who are emboldened by anonymity.  Having comments out in the open is an important feature of basic internet safety for children learning to communicate online.  You even have the option (in case you do have a "bold" class this year) to "moderate" comments.  That is, you can set their posts to stay hidden from the other kids until you approve each one.  This is the perfect way to scaffold for students who need more or less support though the year as they practice basic internet safety in their comments and posts.

Get Parents on Board with Basic Internet Safety Practices


Edmodo does not require an Email to sign up (unlike most websites that you create accounts for).  The only tricky thing about signup is that children need to tick a box that says their parent has read and agreed to the terms of use.  Out of respect to this rule, I sent home a permission slip that granted the children permission to tick the box in class during my introductory lesson.  [Update] A reader requested a copy of this permission slip.  I've added it to my TPT store for free for a limited time, so if you're interested, grab it now!
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Edmodo-Permission-Slip-Free-1195367
I've used Edmodo for 2 weeks now, and honestly I am not sure I love it more than the classroom blog.  Tomorrow over on Shut the Door and Teach I will be writing a pros and cons list for Edmodo versus Weebly.  So if you're interested in Edmodo, I feel it IS worth trying, but you might find a different platform suits your needs better.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Writing Across the Curriculum with Science Observations


In order to MAKE time when there's no time to be found, writing across the curriculum means incorporating writing instruction into science time.  With Common Core putting more pressure on us than ever to focus on math, reading and writing, it can feel like a constant struggle to "fit in science and social studies" at the elementary level.  One of the best matches I've found is to marry the idea of teaching the five senses observations as content area objectives while practicing writing using sensory details.

Writing Across the Curriculum:  Science Observations

This mini unit works really well at the beginning of the school year, when the kids are naturally curious about observing their new learning environment.  After a quick review of our content area objectives (defining the 5 senses) I split them up into teams to scope out defined areas of the room. Armed with clipboards, they are ready to record as many observations as they can in 3 minute chunks of time.
Once they have a wide collection, I have them narrow down their list to 3 objects to make sure they described them using 3 senses (inevitably their first list features nothing but sight, in spite of the review).  We play a little guessing game to see how detailed their descriptions are, and then the real content area vocabulary lesson begins.
Writing Across the Curriculum using Science ObservationsFrom the three students choose a single object to focus on.  For our sense of sight and touch I spend time going over domain specific vocabulary; something emphasized in common core writing.  While most kids focus on the color of objects (something we'll return to later in the year for figurative language) opacity is a new concept.  They tend to forget to mention size as well, so with the explicit instruction this concept can be differentiated.  Some students are ready to go grab a ruler and find a precise length of their object.  Others need to use comparative statements before they are ready to apply what they know about length, width or height find the measurements of their object.  These comparisons help students understand the science content while practicing writing across the curriculum.  The quality of their writing improves with explicit instruction of science vocabulary. 

Writing Across the Curriculum:  Science observations paragraph

The end result of this data collection process is a multi-paragraph informational piece of writing, which is great for common core, as well an understanding of how to conduct scientific observations in order to explore the world around them.  

What's your favorite way to foster Writing Across the Curriculum and integrate writing into other content areas?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Organizing the Classroom Materials Shelf


I made a few minor changes to the Students' Materials Shelf a while back.  Since I decided the theme of my changes this year would be "consistency," I swapped out the few Sterilite shoeboxes to give my Math Manipulatives Area a cohesive look.  So I thought it would be a good idea to get more lime green and aqua containers for this shelf.  I love the little Unitz crates from Staples, so I thought I'd just get more of the same.


Unfortunately, it appears they have been discontinued.  :(

The Before Photo
My next dilemma was what to do with the larger items, like rulers, hole punchers, tape dispensers and staplers.  I've never been sure how to house these, and then I got a great idea:  paper trays.  I could create vertical storage and the kids could take a whole tray with them when it was time to distribute them to groups.

Unfortunately, that was not meant to be either.  They're not tall enough, the rulers fell out of them, and they sagged under the weight.  But other than that...

So I'm still not happy with my materials shelf situation.  If anyone could give me advice in the comments below I'd be grateful! 

On the other hand, I made a few positive changes.

I found some lime green baskets in Target's Dollar Spot.  They're not exactly what I wanted since I can't stack them, but they're a good size for my highlighters, Sharpies and scissors.  I also found some tiny striped boxes at Target that fit inside my wooden box to hold paper clips, staples and erasers.  That's a plus because the paper clips could slide under the dividers in the wooden box; hopefully this will contain them better.  And finally I found some cute pails, also in the Dollar Spot that I'm not sure what to do with; I only found a use for one of them (holding my chart paper markers).  That plus some Frixion pens on sale meant a successful shopping trip that day!

The next improvement I made was to my mini trash.  It fits in with the theme with the help of a bit of Duck Tape.  The mini trash was a real success last year when it came to reducing sticky note wrappers and the like being stuffed any old place on the shelf by kids who were too lazy to walk 15 feet to the barrel, haha.  Seriously, my class this past year was one of my neatest ever and I think organization tricks like this help.  Now it also fits in!

Another good use for the Duck Tape was to create a border on the lip of each shelf.  Like the bookshelf, this shelf is so old and worn it has given the kids and I splinters.  So not only does the border tie in with my color scheme, it will hopefully also prevent some nurse visits!

So this shelf is still a work in progress, unfortunately.  I'll check Pinterest, but if anyone can advise me on the ruler, stapler, hole punch and tape dispenser situation I'd be appreciative.  I'm sure they are not going to stay balanced on top of the paper trays as shown below once the kids arrive! 



  Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites

Update:  Thank you to Kim from Quintessential Lessons for a great solution to my ruler dilemma! Although a Pringles can is too tall to fit on my shelf, I could lay it flat if rolling wasn't such a problem.  However I had on hand a rectangular prism shaped can (Bentley tea tin) that now fits in well thanks to some Duck Tape!






Still looking for ideas on how to stack the tape dispensers, hole punchers and staplers.  Does anyone have a solution?










Originally posted on All Things Upper Elementary

Monday, July 16, 2018

Estimating on Number Lines



I have found that estimating on a number line was a big shift for my class.  At first, they looked like EXPERT estimators; I was ready to hug their third grade teachers.  But then problems kept cropping up.  Why were they suddenly struggling?  Everyone knew that 48,053 rounds to 50,000 and everyone knew 21,923 rounds to 20,000. 

It was pretty clear that when I asked them to round 34,356 to the nearest hundred and suddenly they looked like deer in the headlights that place value was the issue.  Oh, they all whizzed through chapter 1 and knew their word form and expanded form and lined up numbers in columns like pros.  And we've practiced regrouping on a daily basis in our Every Day Counts routine.  But they are still not able to put it all together to really conceptualize how numbers differ.

To fix this I designed two activities.  The first was "Pin the Number on the Number line."  I started out with a single sticky note with the number 35,421 on it.  Then I created four number lines on sentence strips based on that number.  Each number line represented a different place value:
Ten thousands:  10,000  20,000  30,000  40,000 and so on.
Thousands:  30,000  31,000  32,000  33,000  34,000   35,000  36,000 and so on.

And so on for the hundreds and tens...notice that the original number will fit on both of the number lines.  All the number lines were designed to have a space where the given number would fit into. 

Next I wrote 7 more sticky notes that could all fit somewhere on the tens number line, since of course that line would have the most limited choice.

For the activity, I put a number line at each table and had students rotate through, working with a partner to determine where to place the sticky note would go each time, and record it onto their sheets.  As they finished they switched sticky notes with others to get more practice. 

This activity was simple enough for all students, yet it gave them the practice they needed to start looking at a number more than one way.  They had to switch the focus of the place value at each spot.  Since they already had the concept of the 5 determining if a rounded number is larger or smaller than the original, I didn't even focus on that in this lesson.  It was all about find the place value and determining what the higher or lower value was.  In fact, when they sat down and looked at their recording sheets with the higher and lower value their number fell between, they automatically made the connection to circle which of the two the number rounded to.

I had an extension activity that I cycled students through, which I wrote about on my other blog.  This estimating activity was also hands on, but instead of using number lines as a tool I used money to help us estimate!  






Originally posted on All Things Upper Elementary

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Classroom Rules Activity: Main Idea and Details


Every year I start out by talking to my fourth graders about rules.  But by fourth grade, they already know, on paper, what classroom rules should be.  So I've always asked them what they think the rules should be instead of telling them "these are my rules." 

And yet until last year, I would alter those rules, combine with other ideas, throw out "obvious" rules, until lo and behold, their rules were the same as I happened to have on my poster that I'd secretly kept from the previous years.

I don't do that anymore!

Of course, when my students list rules, some are too general, some are more motivational phrases than actionable rules, and a couple are rules that I feel are actually unnecessary.  They also used to be an overabundance of "Don'ts," however once this went out of fashion a few years ago, it seems that by the time they get to my class nowadays they've had enough models of rules phrased as a positive ("stay quiet" instead of "don't talk") that I don't even have to "fix" those (I allow some, I just keep them in the minority).  So of course I still need to "tweak" their rules, but I do NOT put up the same poster every year.

The trouble we DO run into is that we can end up with nearly 50 rules.  So I tell them, "obviously we are never going to be able to remember every single rule on its own.  So it's going to be very hard to follow them!  Are there any we can throw out?"  Once we realize that they are in fact all important, I promise them, "tomorrow I'll teach you a way that we can group these rules to make them easier."

This is when our discussion about rules turns into a reading/writing/executive functioning lesson: sorting details from main ideas.  This is usually SO difficult for kids to grasp, and I used to think it was so hard to teach (since I used to be bad at it when I was their age).  So I model it in the easiest way I know; so simple that many preschoolers would have some success: relate it to animals. 



I start sticking these cards on the board, and at the end I write the sentence in blue.  They're all yelling out the answer before I can even finish the question.  


Next I tell them to think about ways they're alike, and tell me what groups to put them into.  I draw 3 columns as a hint, and listen in as they "turn and talk with a partner."  When they answer, they will usually say, "These 3 are all birds," I'll ask, "How do you know?"  This is because we'll be talking about "finding evidence" a LOT this year.  And finally we name the groups.

Next I ask if there is any other way we can sort these words.  I move "eagle" over into the middle column and ask if the animals are all related in some way.  Kids might see that they are all wild animals.  I ask if robins and blue jays are different; are they not wild animals?  We start to find that there is more than one way to name the groups; sometimes it results in the cards being in different columns, and there is no one right answer.

Next, I gave each group a set of sentence strips.  Last year I "fixed" the strips so that each group would come to a single main idea.  I even threw a main idea strip into the mix to see if they could find it and check if the rules below it "fit inside it." 

This year I mostly fixed the strip distribution it so that each group would have 2 sets of details, and they had to figure out the main idea on their own.  They still have plenty to learn when it comes to compromise and hearing all voices, but I was able to point out some positive behaviors for others to watch and learn from.


In the end, we were able to come up with 5 topics.  Some groups realized their main ideas were synonymous so we needed to combine their piles into one.  Some strips needed resorting the next day, and another lesson was needed to change the topics into main idea sentences (the model I gave them was "Learn as much as you can.") 

There are some rules that I think fit better on a different poster, and the "talking rules" makes me cringe because it's not a fantastic main idea sentence, however the class feels a sense of ownership over these rules.  When we had a fire drill today they pointed out that we needed to add to the safety rules.  Having 5 main ideas to focus on, especially when they were all their own ideas is very manageable.  And yet for those "black or white" thinkers, having the sub-rules that help clarify and define the general rules is helpful.  

We still have more work to do such as talking about how it feels when others break the rules that the rest of us are following (using role playing) as well as talking about their rights as students in our class (which will lead into our unit on government and the Constitution).  But for the most part, after a week and a half our rules are finally finished!  


How do you get kids to "buy into" rules in your class? 


Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites

Originally posted on All Things Upper Elementary

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Use Summertime Efficiently for Next Year's Class


I hope you're having a fun, relaxing summer vacation! Although my vacation has just started, I know some of you are getting ready for next year.  Besides, there are some years I get started on the next year the week after my former kiddos leave!  Often I don't mind giving up some vacation time to devote to school; it's such a nice contrast to be able to pace myself instead of feeling rushed the week before.

After everything was packed up, I started looking over my photos to plan my shopping trips for a few projects.  You can read about my "Summer Projects" that are all about updating several areas of my classroom to improve the look and organization of our daily work. 

I've also started printing, laminating, and one of those tasks that is one of the most time consuming (but somehow gratifying!) each summer, which is personalizing the space for this group of kids.  All the name tags, folders, bulletin board name plates and labels require names.  And I know, fourth graders can write their names on a lot of items like notebooks and folders.  However I happen to enjoy writing them myself.  It's a small way to model my expectations for neat printing, give them a taste of things to come with carefully written cursive letters, and it helps me remember who's in my class more easily, even if I can't match names with faces until the first day. 

So for now, all the printing, laminating, cutting and handwriting names will continue each summer.  I've created a to do list for myself so I can stay on track.  Just because I enjoy a leisurely pace doesn't mean I want to waste time with more than one trip to the laminating machine!  My Back to School to do List is free and editable if you're interested in getting a system in writing that you don't have to have to think about much from one year to the next (other than some updating). 



A final tip I have for you if you're like me, and you like using some of your summer vacation to prepare for a smoother school year:  Make extra EVERYTHING.  In the above picture I have at least 5 blank name tags, 5 blank leaves for my Welcome Back bulletin board, and so on.  There are at least 3 good reasons for this:

  1. The laminator inevitably eats something. 
  2. The class lists inevitably change.  I know, some teachers feel that names should not go on things until those lists are finalized.  However I feel it's much less stressful to write 1 or 2 names 10 times a few days before school starts than have to write the entire class's names on everything a couple days before. 
  3. New students inevitably join our class later in the year, often with very little advance notice.  I keep an envelope titled "New Student Materials" in which I toss all my extras that I make at the same time as everyone else.  This, along with my New Student Orientation List has significantly cut down on the stress of getting that phone call from the office, "You have a new student coming in tomorrow."  Now I can devote my energy into thinking about how to integrate him/her socially and academically instead of having to reprint a leaf for a bulletin board.  My New Student Orientation List is free for a limited time, and of course it's editable.

Do you have any tricks and tips for using summertime efficiently?



This post originally appeared  on All Things Upper Elementary.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Help Students Keep their Desks Neat

Does helping your fourth grader learn organizational skills ever feel like a losing battle?  For years I have felt that way.  I have color coded folders, notebooks, Catch Up folders and a list of "items you may keep in your desk."  I have a dedicated whiteboard that details what paper belongs in which colored folder at any given time. 

And yet when I tell students, "Put this paper in your yellow writing folder," there is always a handful that decide to use the transition time to chit chat and pop the paper in their desk instead of making the effort to take out their yellow writing folder. Which the next day results in, "I can't find my paper; can I get another one (not to mention the implied, "Can I also have another half hour to catch up")?  What's a teacher to do?

In the past I've been able to help those kids who need extra time to clear out a desk they did not organize with the rest of the class; I just stayed in the room with them during recess time.  However with changing duty schedules, I no longer have that luxury.  Therefore I had to develop a system to scaffold this organizational process.  My solution to this problem was to create a mini instructional manual:  "How to Clean Your Desk."

The instruction manual includes step by step directions for how to clean out a desk that needs some work (dump all your stuff all over the floor is not one of those steps) as well as a photograph of what a neat desk looks like.  I double sided this resource when I printed them off so that the result looks like a card (I also edged it all in Washi tape to make it look more attractive and less like a punishment).

I printed 4 of these instruction manuals, (they come 2 per page) and before I go home each afternoon I check a single group of desks.  If a student has any loose papers, I leave one on their desk.  Then when they come in the next morning, they need to clean their desk out.  It might be worth missing Morning Work some days, other days they will need to miss Morning Meeting (which includes a game, so of course they are motivated to get organized more quickly).  The result is every group gets checked once per week, so no one ends up with a "black hole" by the time midterm rolls around.

If you are interested in this resource I'm making it available for free for a limited time!  You can download my How to Clean Your Desk Instruction Manual here.  It's a great little companion to my Organizational Tools Bundle. 

The instruction manual has been a hit in my room this year.  How do you help keep your students on track? 



 Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites


This was originally posted on All Things Upper Elementary.
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